To ban “snus”or not to ban “snus”

My father has a problem. He is, as well as around 1,2 million other people in Sweden, a user of snus. The damp tobacco that you place under your lip is banned all over the EU except for Sweden, which makes it complicated when users go abroad.

– It is discrimination, says the Swedish minister of trade, Eva Björling.

 Vacation in Spain. My family were relaxing by the swimming pool in the sun. Suddenly a big thundercloud showed up and I am not talking about the weather anymore. My father realized that he had left his precious snus back home in Sweden. And the vacation was destroyed since you are not able to buy snus anywhere else in the EU but in Sweden. It all started in 1992 when the EU banned snus because it believed it could cause mouth cancer. Three years later Sweden enlarged the EU with the exception that they still would be able to produce and sell snus because of its cultural background and importance in Sweden.

 Don’t lead to mouth cancer

Since then it has been proved that snus doesn’t lead to mouth cancer and the EU has taken away their warning. And soon the question about legalizing snus will be put on the commission’s table again. In  2012 they are suppose to present a new tobacco products’ directive and so far it doesn’t look good for snus.

The commission last year did a big survey to collect opinions through the EU about the directive. From the 85.000 answers they recently made the conclusionis that most member states want to keep the ban of snus and also ban other mouth tobacco products. The main argument was that even if some of the smoking products may be less dangerous to health than smoking it still creates a health hazard.

– We should be quite careful in interpreting this result. First of all, the Commission says itself that it is difficult to draw definitive conclusions, and if you look at where the answers were coming from, it’s two thirds coming from two member countries, Italy and Poland, and then you should be a bit careful, stated Eva Björling the Swedish minister of trade, to the paper SVD when the survey was published in end of July.

The Swedish minister of trade has been writing many debate articles and letters to the commission about the unfairness of the ban of snus. She as well as the government of Sweden thinks that it is against the free movement of goods to ban a product that has been proven to be less dangerous than cigarettes and other mouth tobacco products.

  Money talks

One big reason why Sweden’s government wants to break up the ban is money. The Swedish Retail Institute, have assessed the economic impact the ban has caused the Swedish economy. They concluded that the annual loss in export revenues amounted to around 300 MEUR per year.  In Sweden it has been popular for smokers to go over to use the less harmful snus instead and 47 percent of the users are former smokers.  Today 4 percent of the female population in  Sweden uses snus daily, which is five times as much since 1989, and Sweden has the lowest percentage of smokers in the EU, according to statistics from the world health organisation.

– And that is one reason why I still believe that the snus is banned within the EU. It is a commercial threat from the pharmaceutical industry, they don’t want any competition against their nicotine products, says Patrik Hildingsson ,vice president group public affairs at Swedish Match, the biggest snus producer.

But even in Sweden the opinion is divided and the government and the trade minister have faced criticism even in the coalition parties.

–   It is a myth that the snus could solve the smoking-catastrophe. The fact that Sweden are given prior to the export of snus as our biggest question of trade in the EU and that the government put up the tobacco industry as a Swedish pride, is outdated and unjustified, write three politicians, one of them Barbro Westerholm (FP), member of the Swedish parliament, in a debate article in the newspaper Dagens Nyheter.

 Snus affects your health

The Swedish institute of public health is a state agency that has the mission to reduce the use of tobacco. They have put out warnings against snus such as the addiction of nicotine and the increased risks of for example of heart attacks to cancer in the pancreas.

We have as an expert authority recommended that tobacco should not be used at all and accounted for the negative health effects. This also applies to snus says Ingrid Millet, Deputy Director General of the Swedish institute of public health.

The future of snus within the EU now lies in the hands of the commission which is getting pressure from lobbyists from both sides. Even the Swedish member of the European parliament, Christofer Fjellner, is illegally selling snus in the corridors of the EU to show what it is about.

–  If the commission looks at the principles of the single market and to science they should remove the ban, but if they stick to political wrangling, the ban will probably still remain, says Patrik Hildingsson at Swedish Match.

The decision of the commission will be here in 2012. Until then the Swedish snus users will continue to pack their bags full of snus since it’s still allowed to bring snus for your own use outside Sweden. And one of them with a fully packed bag will hopefully be my father.

 Thomas Pickelner